Design Thinking in 21st Century Education

“Why did the chicken cross the road?”  If you say “to get to the other side,” you could use a workshop in design thinking.  Humans have categorized their knowledge base and placed it in different boxes.  When we are asked to think through a process, the outcome is very rarely new to us.  We innovate by applying already obtained knowledge to a different situation… and expect to be recognized for our efforts.

IDEO and the dSchool at Stanford University set out to introduce design thinking into the world to help solve issues and make sense of difficult situations.  Lately, I have been reading through Creative Confidence (Tom Kelley & David Kelley).  They discuss in depth how IDEO and Stanford’s dSchool got their start.  Throughout the years, individuals lives have been changed for the better, multi-million dollar business have been built from the ground-up, and lives have been saved.  How?  Through design thinking.

A movie just aired on PBS that details how Stanford’s dSchool works within one of their classes.  Extreme by Design brings about laughter, tears, and new understanding to the viewer.  The biggest take-away from the film is the importance that design thinking can play in our world, whether in America or in a third world country.  The producer of the film, Ralph King Jr., sat down with Dr. John Nash of the University of Kentucky in a KET interview to discuss the movie and how design thinking can effect education and the state of Kentucky.

So how does this come into the field of education?  Whether the high school is having scheduling difficulties or your 3rd grades class is creating a smart phone app, design thinking forces you to understand and think differently than you ever have before.  The reading or listening to the process of design thinking may not enthuse you, but the moment you enter the workshop and are knee-deep in designing a duct tape wallet, you understand the importance and need for such a school of thought in our world.

More information on design thinking:

Design thinking incorporates the following step-by-step process into the foundation of its ideology:  empathize, define, ideate, prototype, test.  Currently, the dLab at the University of Kentucky is ran by Dr. John Nash.  The dLab has an undergraduate design thinking class to introduce college students to the process.  Dr. Nash also travels around the state and teaches the process to companies, schools, and various other organizations.


Image credit:  Bytemarks

Talk It Out

Recently I have found myself perturbed when explaining my research to other individuals outside of academia.  This does not come from an arrogant or “I’m better than you” viewpoint.  The bigger issue is the deliverance of an elevator pitch that is needed for anyone to understand.

Performance in most jobs is based on individual efforts and typically takes a lot of lonely work hours to get the job done.  So why do all of the innovative and progressive companies put so much emphasis on work and cross-disciplinary discussions?  Well, doing so forces you to think about a different perspective than your own so that you can create a more developed approach.

So next time your spouse asks what you are researching, your brother asks to explain the project in more depth, or the stranger in Starbucks questions what you do… take the opportunity to explain yourself.  Take the opportunity to have a conversation and get feedback on their understanding of your work.  Challenge yourself to talk clearly and in a short enough time to where you don’t lose your audience.  Make your elevator pitch the best it’s ever been to ultimately mold your research into a well-formed final product.

I don’t know if my parents will ever understand exactly what I do, but the continuous reframing within multiple discussions allows me the opportunity to problem solve and understand the larger impact of the work.  To sum up… Don’t give up on people because they don’t understand – discuss with a new perspective and strengthen your own understanding.  


Image credit:  Chip Griffin

Measuring the Other Side of Design Thinking

As I am starting the dissertation process, I am becoming more and more aware of the how big the task is set before me.  My PhD program is in Educational Leadership at the University of Kentucky, and YES… it is difficult.

The process includes multiple meetings with your chair, individual meetings to form a committee, a prospectus meeting to get the “idea” past the committee, written qualification exam, oral qualification exam, written proposal, oral proposal, written dissertation, oral dissertation defense.  Even more difficult is the selection of what one will study for that length of time without contemplating other means to end their life.

With my background in psychology and strong interest in design thinking, I plan to evaluate the psychological constructs attached to the design thinking process.  If you are unfamiliar with design thinking – it is the idea of thinking through a problem like a designer would.  Instead of working with where the problem is currently at, a designer envisions a blank slate and starts fresh.  The training process includes empathizing with the problem at hand, designing prototypes, getting feedback, etc.

Interestingly, most individuals chose to simply look at the product of the process.  The goal of studying the psychological constructs within the process is to better understand how an individual can grow to the pre and post understanding of ambiguous items.  Some ideas thus far include studying one’s creativity, grit, resilience, hope, empathy, confidence, persistence, tenacity, optimism, and innovation.

I welcome any and all ideas on measures to study the current constructs.  I also would love to hear of more challenges that I can take on with this project.  Any other constructs you think may play a role or any deeper meaning within the current proposed constructs will be entertained.


Image Credit:  Roland Tanglao

Runaway Business Train...

Business can be tricky.  Using the railroad as a metaphor, sometimes we think we are “on track” and running smoothly.  But there comes a time when we need to switch rails or risk coming off track.

The recent train crash in New York City reminded me of the importance of slowing down and prioritizing.  The train was reported to be going 82 MPH going into a 30 MPH zone.  If the operator was paying attention and took the time to be completely knowledgable about the path, the train may have stayed on track.

Are you on the tracks? – With things running smooth, it is easy to lose your focus or get sidetracked.  There is a constant need to look ahead, plan for the next step, understand and evaluate where you are, know your competition, and stick to your vision.  To continue running smoothly, keep up!

Are you needing to switch rails? – Businesses are constantly switching directions.  My wife just commented yesterday on how Facebook has recently transformed into a platform for the sharing of articles and movies rather than personal updates.  Maybe to grow your business or feel more in control of your train, switching rails may be a necessity.  Don’t be afraid to let your business veer in another natural direction.  Embrace the change and build from it.

Are you almost derailed? – If you haven’t embraced a change in direction or attempted to stay on top of your business, you may feel a lose of control.  Although this can be scary (and sometimes come with consequences), it is still not too late to slow down and get back on track.  Evaluate what is going wrong and what is going right.  While focusing on the good, take each bad in stride.  Prioritize your to do list and celebrate the small milestones to get back on track.

Catch your runaway train before it’s too late.  Attempt to sit down and discuss your situation(s) with someone you can confide in and take control of your engine.  Just remember… slowing down is not always bad – and can sometimes be necessary.


Image credit: Marc Johnson

Holiday/Work Break

Every school child looks forward to the next break.  Whether it be Thanksgiving, winter, or spring break, it provides a time to focus on nothing.  Exactly – the benefit is the focus on nothing in particular.  The same holds true for the working individual.

There may not be lengthy breaks or complete office shutdowns, but the opportunity to get away from work should not be overlooked.  Here are three reasons I have grasped to get away from work through reading, listening, and personal experience.

  1. Innovation – When constantly working, our minds develop a tunnel vision.  Many researchers suggest that even taking a walk and getting away from the issue at hand for a bit of time can help find a solution.  Get away from your tunnel vision and allow innovation through taking a break from work.
  2. Relationships – Probably the most important part of time away from work is the relationships with family and friends.  Work easily consumes all of our time, even on the weekends.  Marriages, friendships, etc. are all put on the back burner for the sake of the next “project”.  Take this time to give 100% of your attention to the ones who mean the most to you.
  3. Rest – Ask any sleep researcher and they will discuss the “sleep debt” that we all incur.  Lay around, sleep, nap, do what pleases you.  Even after we come home from work, work is still on our minds – hindering us from the deeper stages of sleep.  Make sure to get your best rest (and exercise) during your time off.

Enjoy the holiday season.  Stay healthy and safe while enjoying those you love.


Running Toward Outcome... or Process?

Forrest Gump (1994) provides an interesting and unexpected viewpoint of his exercise routine.  He runs… to run.  He is not looking to finish a race or reach a goal.  He is running to run.  Witnessing myself working day in and day out has produced a similar feeling – working just to work.  I don’t have an end goal.  I’m so focused on the current process that I am losing sight of the outcome.

In the field of education, a constant focus is on the process of teaching, the process of learning, the process of ___ (fill in the blank).  In a recent conversation, I was challenged with the idea of the process not being the metric of importance, but rather the outcome.  So then is it the “outcome of the process” that is to be measured?  I want to argue that the outcome should be a longitudinal measurement and the process is simply a means to an end.

If you are a teacher – are you focused more on your teaching style and bettering your process in exchange of losing focus on the long-term outcome of student success?

If you are an administrator – are you looking room-to-room to watch processes and attempting to regulate certain processes or are you allowing innovation to occur in light of long-term school success?

If you are a stakeholder (i.e. – parent, student, committee member, etc) – are you getting caught up in the daily mishaps of individuals or are you able to step back and focus on the larger picture of every student having a bright future?  Are you hindering the success of a community by your selfish and simplistic mindset?

I want to challenge each individual to refocus and produce a clear vision this holiday season as you enter into your role.  The down time with family and friends can lend itself to new ideas.  Remember the longitudinal measurement of outcome as being your focus next time you find yourself complaining or even suggesting a new idea.  Don’t be like Forrest Gump.  Find yourself sprinting toward a goal of success!

Image from Ben Sutherland